10 Life Lessons from The Spartan Trifecta
This year I undertook a feat. I, with limited knowledge, agreed to do a Spartan race. Now, let’s back up. I had no idea what a Spartan race was when I, naively agreed to participate. My friend and former client, Libryia Jones, said she wanted to do them, and no one would do them with her, I thought that was sad. So, with no investigation, I said: “I’ll do them with you.” What was I thinking? Before making this agreement, I thought people who did these types of races were stupid. Let me get this right; you are going to pay someone to crawl under barbed wire through mud, slide into dirty water and jump over fire? Why? But, if you know me, you know that my word is something I take very seriously. Even, though I made an uneducated commitment, I made a promise, and I was going to carry through. But, few things in life are just because, most are meant to teach you a lesson. I have learned, in my years as a trainer/professor/teacher, that most people are not ready to learn from introspection. People often need a surrogate for learning. This is why well-developed training or the best professors use stories and activities/simulations. If I say to you, “You don’t drive as well as you think” you would instantly become defensive and put a wall up against anything I tried to teach you about driving. But, if I avoid the conversation altogether and tell you a funny story about a lousy driver using all of the characteristics of your driving style, you will laugh but slowly begin to identify the traits you share with the driver in the story. Because no one called you out you are more likely to use the tools offered to the driver in the story to change your own driving style. I can take the learning even further is I told the story and put you in a driving simulation. Life, outside of the classroom, is similar. Few people are ready for the lessons life must give so we have to experience a parallel situation and hopefully make the connections. The Spartan race(s) are my parallel. So, here is what I learned about life in my, nearly year-long Spartan Trifecta process.
1. The sooner you recognize that poop will be on your path the sooner you can ignore it and get to the goal at hand: Spartan races can be up to 32 miles long. This means they often find land used for pasturing animals. This also means that removing animal excrement does not make the course set up checklist. The smell of animal feces is not only present it is pungent and visible. Though I am no first-timer, with each race I start off trying to dodge the piles of poop and poop residual left on the course. At some point in the race, around the 1.5 mile mark I realize that I have a choice to make, I can poop dodge or run the race. Much like the race, life too will have poop on the path; the death of a loved one is poop, being abandoned is poop, financial strains, poop, broken promises, poop, limited or no resources, poop, failure, POOP! You can exert your energy trying to avoid poop, which means you will spend your life looking down for the poop instead of focusing on what is ahead of you. Do you want to step in poop? No. But if you step in poop and keep going, the poop will mysteriously go away. Plus, life, like Spartan races, has showers. If you keep going to the end, you will be able to wash the poop off.
2. Sometimes you just gotta go alone, even if it was never meant to be that way: My first race was in Jacksonville, Fl. It was only 4-6 miles of obstacles. When I announced I was doing it, about 10 people said they would also race. At that race was my daughter as a spectator/cheerleader/photographer and I actually ran with four other people. It was great and I needed them. Many of the obstacles I could not have done alone, and at that point in my Spartan experience, I really needed people I knew to join me on the journey. By the second race, 8-10 miles of obstacles there were supposed to be 3 of us, but one had an injury, so there was only one other person and me. I needed a partner less but it was very handy to have one. This last race, the BEAST, I was alone. But, when I registered for the race over three months ago, I knew I would be alone despite the intention of others. So, why did I do it? I had to. Despite your best intentions and their best wishes, there are some things you will and must do alone. Did I need people to help me along the course? YEAH! And those people manifested when I needed them the most. Every time I got to a spot where I absolutely needed someone, they would appear, offer assistance and move on. But, let me tell you the real lesson. The real lessons were the opportunity to step out of deficiency thinking paralysis and figure things out. Sometimes, you just need to see who you really are and that doesn’t happen in comfortable places. The real you shows up when your back is against the wall, and you are out of options, it is then when you see if you will flourish or fold. I did some spectacular things in those moment, things that made the best trained folks out there say “Oooh, Imma try that?” Ohhs and Ahhs, only moments after my battles with self-doubt and the fear that I could not do “it” alone. Life presents so many options to amaze yourself and explore your strength minus others. No one intends to be a single parent, but you can do it, you started a business with a partner, but now you are a solopreneneru, you… and now you are alone. You can do it. It is ok to have self-doubt and fear that you can’t do it alone, but right after that moment of self-doubt, go ahead and flip backwards, by accident, off the obstacle and amaze EVERYONE, brush your shoulders off and run away like you meant to do that knowing full well you are more shocked than anyone else out there.
3. You are Hella Dope and acting like you are not, does not serve anyone well, especially you: I have always squirmed away from saying “I am Dope, actually Hella Dope.” This year my girl turned 40 and we went to Mexico to celebrate her. Each person picked a phrase that was common for her to say. I selected the phrase “Hella dope” because she says it and because I am. We often feel that saying we are amazing somehow changes the fact that we are amazing and it makes us humble. It doesn’t do either. J
ust because you won’t say it doesn’t change the fact that you are amazing. Humility is freedom from pride or arrogance. If you are Hella Dope and you pretend you are not, that is not humility that is lying. I completed the Spartan Trifecta, and that is Hella Dope. You have started a business, lost 15 pound, gone back to school, gotten out of an abusive relationship…All of that is Hella Dope, You Are HELLA DOPE and it is OK for you to say it!
4. Don't be afraid to say your big dreams out loud: Lisa Rozzelle will be at ExecuPrep by the end of 2019 (shhh, she doesn't know it yet). I only told a few people I was going for the Trifecta in 2018. If I am honest, I only told a few people for the same reason I only tell a few people most of the grandeous things I have in my head: I might not make it to the goal. I am not concerned about the haters and the saboteurs and the …I am not even afraid of failing, I am afraid of you knowing I failed. But there is something about speaking your goal to people, something about saying them out loud to someone other than yourself. Keeping it to yourself does not change the fact that you didn’t achieve the goal but it does take away your ability to celebrate. My tribe would love to have cheered me on at the race. I even had people in the area reach out and say “Why didn’t you tell me you were here doing the race? I would have come out and supported you. Had some bar-b-que for you at the finish line.” Keeping stuff to myself made me miss homecooked food, and ya’ll know I love food. You will not reach all the goals you set and SO WHAT? Your tribe wants to be on the journey whether you make it or not. So, here is my BIG goals that scares me to put out in public. ExecuPrep will make 10MM in revenues next year. Your turn.
5. There are some people that REALLY want to be there but they just can't. Their absence is no indication of their love for you: The main person that started this Spartan race foolishness only did one race with me. For race two, she had a back injury and I don’t know what happened for race three. What I do know is that she loves me and wishes she was there. One, she did not want to let me down and two she wanted to achieve the fitness results that come with truly preparing for such races. Did I have a millimeter of my mind that felt a little ways? For like two seconds, especially when I thought about the obstacles that would require help, but then I realized I could focus on her absence, or I could focus on the goal. I can’t think of solutions and resentment at the same time. I had to choose, you have to choose. There are people who have let you down and you hold resentment that is killing you, not them. They really wanted to be there but whether they wanted to be there or not is not your concern, your concern is the task at hand. Let it go and put your energy toward solutions.
6. You will get hurt on the path and when you do, you have two choices: keep going or get taken out: I was getting it, running, keeping up with the pros. I felt good about myself. The wind was in my hair, the sun was at my back, and I was the perfect image for “Spartan” the movie. I was 3+ miles in and then it happened. The terrain was actually horrible and I probably should have slowed my pace for caution but I was feeling myself, and as a result, I stepped in a very unleveled area, not quite a hole but close enough to a hole to cause the impact that stepping into a hole while running would. YEP! I rolled my ankle and Man Down! I yelled out in pain as I thought the race was over for me. I cried I had come too far, trained too hard, worked too m
uch for my race to end at mile 3. People stopped to help me. “Are you OK,” “Do you need us to call medical,” “Do you need help?” Then this Nigerian man runs by; he had an accent that sounded like it was from the continent and had a Nigerian flag headband on. He looked at me on the ground, did not break stride, did not stop, ran past the small crowd and yelled out “She is fine, she is made of much stronger stuff than that, just help her up.” WHAT???? Sir, “You don’t know me is what I thought” but “Just help me up” is what I said. Show me an athlete that has never been injured and I will show you a bold faced liar. Injuries are what happen when you go hard. It is not the injury but what you do after you are injured. You can stay there and cry, or you can get up and finish. No answer is right for every situation. Sometimes you need to stay your butt on the ground and let the medical team come, and other times you need to know you are made of stronger stuff, get some help up and get your back in the race.
7. Failure HAS TO BE an option. If failure is not an option you will only do safe things, things you know you won't/can't fail at doing: When the idea of doing the Trifecta was introduced to me so many things came in my head. 1. I travel like I own an airplane. When was I going to fit these three races in my schedule, particularly because they are not going to be on one place, I would have to travel to them and 2. I have never run more than 10 miles at one time, let alone done 10+ miles with obstacles. What fresh level of foolishness was I agreeing to and when/where would I train for this mess. I was walking into something that was new and unfamiliar. I decided I was willing to fail at this but I was going for it. Here is what people think failure as an options means: most people think it means I can halfway do this. I don’t have to give it my all and if I make it, I make it and if I don’t, I don’t. Here is what failure as an option actually means: I am doing something I have never done before, or something I am unsure of, I will give it everything I have and I will push til’ I can’t push anymore. I will go at this like I am going to win, but if I don’t , I will fail knowing I left it all on the field. When you do things knowing you can succeed you are being safe and in your comfort zone, and that is NO fun.
8. Sometimes you think you are looking for mentors and you are actually looking for peers: As I was preparing for the races I kept looking for a “coach” to train me on how to be successful in these races. When I told people that I wanted training for Spartan races many gave me strange looks. The people that did not give me strange looks said, “I don’t think I can coach you but we can train together.” I always thought this to be a strange response cause I didn’t think of myself as a peer to these people, I thought of myself as a student. But, I agreed, in some instances, and I found that I might not have been at their exact fitness level but I held my own. We didn’t get up Stone Mountain in the same amount of time, but they didn’t leave me in the dust either. They made it further up the rope than I did but they didn’t make it to the top either. I had the same experience in business. I spent much of 2018 looking for mentors and every person I approached gave me a very strange look. One even said “Dethra, are you serious? Yes, I am a little ahead of you but not enough to be your mentor.” Her response shocked me because I could not see myself and my business for what it was. Then I had to realize, much like the Spartan experience, I was not looking for mentors, I was looking for a new set of peers. What about you?
9. When women unite we can conquer the unconquerable and when men join in...OMG, RIDICULOUS: I finally made it to an obstacle where I was not overthinking it; I truly needed someone to help me. That was when I really thought about the people that were supposed to be there with me. Before the thought turned to resentment a woman who was also doing the race solo walked up to me, she didn’t even introduce herself and wasted no time on pleasantries, “I will help you if you in turn help me.” With that said, she squatted, put her hands together, motioned for me to step into the crater she created and she hoisted me over the 11 foot wall. With her boost I had enough to grab the top and use my upper body and core strength to kick my leg over and get over the wall. Once I was over I ran back around and did the exact same for her. From that point on we sort of unofficially ran the race together. We never really spoke again but we helped pace each other. She was ahead, and when she slowed I would move ahead and give her the “Pick up the pace look,” and she would pick up the pace. She did the same for me. We helped each other on other obstacles and screamed encouragement at each other when we struggled on obstacles. One time I tried an obstacle, failed at my initial attempt and headed for my punishment of 30 burpees (the punishment for failure to complete an obstacle) she screamed, “YOU GOT MORE IN YOU, TRY AGAIN.” She was right, I had more in me. I tried again and was successful. I think trying again took more out of me than the burpees would have but the pride I felt accomplishing the obstacle was amazing. Later we both got to an obstacle where we needed man strength. In that moment a man appeared. Again, no pleasantries, he simply put his back to the wall and said: “Step on my knee, then my shoulder, get to the top and reach down for her.” I was taken aback and hesitated. This strange man was going to let me step on him twice, and I already told you about the poop I had been running in. He saw my hesitation, smiled and said “It is the Spartan way.” I thanked him, stepped on his knee, then his shoulder, got to the top and reached down for her as she did the same. We both go to the top, looked down at him and I said run and jump. He then looked at us shocked. I said, “Step back, run, jump and reach for our hands." He looked uncertain, and he should have been because this plan was half-baked even in my head. He stepped back, ran, grabbed both of our hands and we slid down the back of the wall pulling him up. We released his hand and finished our decent, and he smiled from the top. Y'all I still can’t believe that worked. But it did! We would not have made it through that obstacle without the strength he provided. In life we, women, are often pitted against each other. Women, we must work together and support each other and Men are not our enemies, they are our allies. Men you have to prove that you are allies indeed, not just words.
10. Success may not look the way you thought, but you better recognize it when you get there, cause real, GRAND success doesn't come by that often: My goal for this last race was to give all I had on each obstacle. In previous races I would get to certain obstacles, look at them and decide “I am not wasting my energy.” This meant I would head straight for the burpee zone. 30 burpees are the penance for failure on an obstacle. This time I was going to try every obstacle whether I thought I could do it or not. I shocked myself. Many of the obstacles I'd didn't even try in previous races, I was able to complete. I was shocked. I did the race in the hot Florida sun and while it is November, it is also Florida. At the 12.5 mile mark. I felt it. I was getting overheated. I knew it was bad when I snatched off my shirt and continued the race in just my sports bra as a top. While I was mentally uncomfortable walking around in a sports bra, I felt it was way more comfortable than being passed out in the mud. With only about a mile left I was fading and fading fast. I could feel it. My ankle injury from mile 3 was throbbing, and my energy was fading fast because I had consumed only water and no food or electrolytes. I got to some of the last obstacles, touched the obstacle and realized if I expended any energy I would pass out, literally. At the moment I felt bad about that, I hated going to the burpee zone without even trying to climb or jump or pull up. I started the race saying “I would give all I had to each obstacle”, and at that moment I did not feel like I was not honoring that commitment. I did this on about three of the 37 obstacles and with the last bit of strength I had I jumped the fire pit and crossed the finished line. I grabbed my metal, the energy drink they hand you at the end, scurried to a fence and sat down on the ground quicker than I had ever done in my life. If I were watching me I would have thought I passing out. That is how fast I went to the ground. I had NOTHING left in me. Along the route I did not eat as I saw the pros doing, I took no breaks, I did not pour water on my body or head, I did none of the things I saw people who were clearly experts at this doing and at the end I could tell. I popped that electrolyte drink open and drank it like my salvation was in that can. A man next to me asked if I could get him a drink too. It appeared he was in the same condition as me but a little worse cause he didn’t get his drink with salvation in it. I looked at him, shook my head and said “No, sir, I’m not gone be able to do that. You want some of mines.” Yes, in my delirium I said the sentence exactly as it is written here and I especially said “mines.” He nodded his head “Yes” and again with no exchange of pleasantries, he gulped down the remainder of my drink. His eyes said “You just saved my life.” I nodded and said “It is the Spartan way.” We both grabbed the rail like two people who had way too much to drink as we struggled to our feet and together we limped to get our bags. It was then that I smiled and realized that I had honored my agreement to myself. I said I would give all I had on each obstacle and that is exactly what I did. When I finished that race I had nothing left to give. Despite what I wanted it to look like, I did what I said I was going to do and I made it with nothing left. Sometimes we feel unaccomplished because we are not willing to accept the picture of success that is presented to us. The success picture has to fit our frame or it is not success and that is not how any of this works. I submit to you that you may not be failing as much as you think. You feel unsuccessful because you are rejecting all the images of success that are not perfectly cropped to fit the frame you have imagined.
Bonus Lesson 11. Celebrate the little successes!: I had a small party at EVERY mile marker: every single one. Why, because I made it that much further than the people at home on the couch. I celebrated when I completed my first Spartan race, the Sprint. I celebrated even though I had two more, much harder races to go.
Some people will never even make it as far as you made it when you quit, or as far as you made it when you got injured or as far as you made it when your money, body, mind, will gave out. Some people won’t even come close to where you are right now. Celebrate at every success marker. And set a reward. By mile 9 I knew I was going to get me a Big Ole Shave Ice. I had that thing in my sights, and I got it with a whole bunch of syrup. Your celebrations don’t have to be huge, they just need to be rewarding for you. Celebrate!